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Berkeley Police Plan “Unprecedented Security” For Ben Shapiro Event

Berkeley, California was the purported birthplace of the American “Free Speech” movement during the 1960s. But in 2017, it has become singularly associated with liberal oppression. A place where conservative speakers and demonstrators have been confronted with violence and threats, and where the active repression of the doctrinaire has been aided by city and university officials’ troubling willingness to appease and accommodate the left.

But in a surprising and encouraging development, the University of California at Berkeley has revealed that it is ramping up security tonight ahead of a lecture by the Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro. The Associated Press reports that campus authorities plan to seal off the campus' central hub, Sproul Plaza and enforce a "closed perimeter" around several buildings, including Zellerbach Hall, where Shapiro is scheduled to speak to a sold-out, 1,000-person audience.

Berkeley officers have been authorized to use pepper spray to control violence for the first time in two decades after the city council modified a 1997 ban at an emergency meeting this week, the AP reported. To be sure, Shapiro appeared on campus last year without incident. But that, of course, was before President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, leading to a country-wide wave of political violence. Until recently, University officials had discouraged conservatives like Anne Coulter from speaking – prompting the cancellation of several events for security reasons – after Antifa protesters violently disrupted an appearance by conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos in February, causing $100,000 in damage. Police and UC Berkeley officials were criticized for their reluctance to intervene, giving demonstrators wide latitude to destroy the university’s campus.

This time, Berkeley’s chief of police is taking extra precautions.

“Berkeley city police chief Andrew Greenwood said officers would make "very strong, rapid arrests" of protesters wielding weapons and wearing masks.”

And as the Associated Press plainly states, the significance of this shift in relation to the broader repression of conservative voices cannot be understated.

“The city and campus at UC Berkeley have become a flashpoint for the country's political divisions, drawing extremist groups from the left- and right-wing. Four political demonstrations have turned violent in Berkeley since February, prompting officers to come up with new strategies to control rowdy and sometimes dangerous crowds.”

Even the city’s mayor is acknowledging that the left is also capable of committing violent acts.

"We have seen extremists on the left and right in our city," said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, a Democrat who backed the police request to use pepper spray. "We need to make sure violence is not allowed."

Shapiro was invited to speak by campus Republicans, who say the liberal university stifles the voice of conservative speakers.

Shapiro’s speech is the first in a series of conservative speakers. Later this month, Yiannopoulos plans to hold a "Free Speech Week" on campus with a lineup that includes Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon.

According to an activist who spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle, there is no official counter protest planned for the Shapiro event.

"'There is no counterprotest planned for Ben Shapiro,’ said Meleiza Figueroa, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley whose protest cred dates back to the Occupy movement in 2011, when campus police struck her in the ribs with a nightstick as she linked arms with peaceful students hoping to set up tents."

Still, as the Chronicle points out, Antifa doesn’t always “check in” before showing up.  

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